15 Things To Know Before You Go To Iceland
So you're ready to plan your trip to the land of fire and ice? How exciting! Carefully planning your trip to Iceland will help you feel the most comfortable with both your budget and your itinerary. Do as much research as you can on the activities you want to do, the things you want to see and explore, and what must be checked off your bucket list. The time of year you go will impact both the budget and the ability to see what you want as well as having to navigate tourists and the impact the lighting will have on your photography. There is so much to see and do all over Iceland, it's best to identify your priorities given the time you have. And if you feel overwhelmed with planning, you can always join a reputable tour agency to take you through the highlights like this one with Intrepid Travel. Hopefully, this post will help you get started with your research and planning. Here are some key items for your journey to and around this most dramatic Island.
15 things to know before you go to Iceland
1. The population of Iceland is approximately 330,000 people and two-thirds of the island's residents live in Reykjavik, the capital. [Fun fact, Reykjavik means "smoky bay".]
2. The currency is Icelandic króna and Iceland is expensive. It's as simple as that. You can absolutely visit Iceland on a budget, but you may want to wait on Iceland if you need to do it on the super cheap because you will miss out on things like whale watching, guided tours, glacier walks, and getting off the beaten path which gives an extra special insight to the magic of the island. But if you're OK with that or limiting your time there, you're still in for a treat.
3. Food is expensive. Consider the costs of your basics when developing your budget. For example, a coffee is at least $4 - $5. The average meal could come around $20. If you plan to eat out more frequently, you'll want to adjust for this. You can stay at an accommodation that will provide a kitchen and you can save with buying groceries and cooking at your temporary home.
4. The national language is Icelandic. You won't have trouble finding folks who speak English, but it is nice if you learn hello (Góðan daginn ) and thank you (takk). (Tahk.)
5. Plan to fly into Reykjavik (KEF) airport. There are several major cities that can give you a direct flight. For example, both NY and LA. Wow Air and Icelandair offer free stopovers on the way to Europe, so you can always spend a full day exploring before heading on. Take note of the fresh clean air when you step outside!
6. Electricity in Iceland is the same as in Europe (220 volts). If you're coming from the US, you will need to pack an adapter.
7. The water is clean and good to drink, but you will be hit with a smell of sulfur. This will affect your hair and its texture. Pack a moisturizing conditioner if you plan to wash your hair frequently.
8. The temperatures range from 50-60 degrees in summer months, and 30 degrees in the winter. It's actually a more mild winter than NYC on average in winter months. It will never get completely dark in the months of May through August. In December a faint light appears only for a few hours each day. High season for tourists is mid-June through August. February, March, September, and October are popular times to try and see the northern lights. But winter months will be dramatically cheaper for travel. If you want to visit more remote parts of the island, it may be best to avoid December through April, where roads will be closed.
9. Highway 1 is also known as "Ring Road", as it can take you around the entire country. The length is approximately 828 miles, so it is possible to drive the entire road between 12 to 17 hours, depending on your speed. You don't want to do it all in one day, but it can be done more comfortably between 5 - 7 days, depending on your dedicated sight-seeing activities per day. If you plan to drive around it give yourself a day for arrival and departure, so a trip to 7-9 days can do it. This is also factoring in you are not visiting between December and April when the weather is colder and less predictable.
10. Are you planning to travel in the summer months, like June? This is the land of the midnight sun, so plan to pack an eye mask for sleeping at night and maybe some earplugs, depending on where you stay. The sun will give you energy and you'll need to block it out for a full night's restful sleep.
11. Pack layers. The weather in the north Atlantic is all over the place. You'll notice constant shifts in the temperature with the sun behind the clouds, no clouds, time of day, and the wind. The temperature ranges from 50 degrees to 60 degrees. Bring a swimsuit, raincoat, a small umbrella, your hiking boots (perferably water proof), scarf, gloves, (- even in the summer) and sunscreen. Better to be comfortable and take layers off. Iceland is windy! And this is important to note when you rent a car.
12. Plan to rent a car (if you aren't sticking with a tour the entire time). You can walk around Reykjavik no problem, but you will need a car to see the countryside. Don't stay in Reykjavik the entire time you travel to Iceland. The beauty is everywhere on this island, but you will want to take your time to explore and check out all the spots that you can't necessarily see when you're on a tour. You can pick one up later on in the trip in town and then drop it off at the airport if you want to stick to a budget. In addition, note parking in Reykjavik can be tricky. Also, because of the wind, mind your door when you open it. Your rental car company will appreciate your mindfulness. If you are planning to visit during a high tourist season, and you don't drive stick, reserve your car early so inventory doesn't run out.
13. Check the local calendar of events. This will affect the hours of operation of local businesses, whether locals will also be filling the streets with tourists, and if you want to book tickets in advance for the any of the festivities or festivals you may want to join before they book up.
(For example, during my time in Iceland it was both the first Eurocup game for Iceland vs. Portugal, the country's Independence Day and the Secret Solstice festival featuring Radio Head. It was quite the week.)
14. Iceland is on 'island time'. Meaning, customer service here is not what you expect in the USA, so you'll have to travel here with a relaxed attitude and patience as they "get around to it".
15. Iceland is the land of renewable energy and has incredible landscapes (which is likely why you are excited to visit Iceland), but it is incredibly important to be a super responsible traveler when visiting this island. Don't take things from the land, don't drive where you aren't supposed to, and tread lightly. The wonders of Iceland can take years or decades to recover from the misuse and abuse of humans. It's important to do our part, especially as tourism rises to this most special place.
A Few More Bonus Facts About Iceland:
- Iceland emergency number: 112
- The only public transport in Reykjavik is the bus. The Straeto.is app will give you the schedule.
- Most cafes and bars will offer free wireless internet access.
- And if you're looking for a Totally instagrammable Day during your time in Reykjavik click here!
Have an amazing time in Iceland and do be sure to send over your tips and highlights.